Josh Riley knows a thing or two about making biscuits -- and he's got the plaque to prove it.
Riley, one of two biscuit bakers at the 12th and Locust Hardee's, won the district and took second in last week's regional biscuit bake-off in TriStar Ventures' annual competition. The company operates 31 Hardee's in Illinois, Iowa and Missouri.
"This store's never won anything before," said Laura Brockes, general manager for the 12th and Locust location. "As a store, we couldn't be prouder to have somebody working here that's gone to that level."
Riley brought home a plaque complete with his name and a rolling pin.
"We're just trying to decide where to hang it, maybe out here where everybody can see it," Brockes said. "He's not happy about it, but we're hanging it."
The 24-year-old shrugs off the attention -- including signs on the marquee at his Hardee's and the one at 12th and Jefferson also operated by TriStar -- generated by his win for what he does several times a week at the restaurant in a shift starting at 5 a.m. He trained as a biscuit maker after starting the job in November. When another employee left, Riley moved from a backup slot to doing the made-from-scratch baking three or four times a week. Each batch of dough makes 52 biscuits, and he'll make up to seven batches on a typical day.
Riley said the secret to the best biscuits is simple: He just follows the Hardee's procedures.
"They have all the steps you need to do. Don't skip them, do it properly and almost always it turns out the way we want them," said Riley, a Hamilton native who lives in Warsaw.
The biscuits have to meet height, diameter and weight requirements.
"The week before regionals, I think Josh weighed every biscuit he made, making sure it made the weight," Brockes said.
"I hit height and diameter every time. Weight's the one that fluctuates with the amount of trim dough you use," Riley said. "The extra dough you have will make it heavier or lighter."
A batch of biscuits takes 12-15 minutes to prepare and eight minutes to bake.
In competition, the biscuits had to be ready within 15 minutes. Riley had his batch ready in 12 minutes in the district competition, but at regionals it took him 15 minutes and 35 seconds, an automatic 10-point deduction, which cost him a first-place finish. "The competition at that level is so tight. He made one mistake, literally one mistake," Brockes said. "He hit every step in competition."
Biscuit bakers and general managers from all 31 stores compete in the districts -- with Riley and Brockes baking in Fort Madison, Iowa -- then the top four bakers and their general managers go onto the regionals, with baking done in the test kitchen of Hardee's St. Louis headquarters.
That meant Brockes, who trained Riley, had to compete against him.
"The only person in the store who can outbake me on biscuits is Josh, and that's the way it should be," Brockes said. "Having us compete side-by-side with the biscuit makers makes us invested in the store and the outcome."
The competition is one of the biggest events for TriStar, and "biscuits are the biggest thing that we do," Brockes said.
Riley took home $250 for the district win and visited the Gateway Arch, toured the Hardee's headquarters and rode in a stretch Hummer as part of the St. Louis competition.
Just don't ask Riley to pick a favorite biscuit on the menu.
"They're all good," he said. "It just depends on your taste and your preference."